Composting

A simple guide

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Composting' page

Start composting

Make it as simple or complicated as you wish, but do start composting- it's good for maintaining fertile and healthy soil. Look at the plots around you - plots with compost heaps are usually the ones with good deep beds bulging over the path edges; plots without compost heaps are often those where the soil has sunk below path level.

Where to put your compost bin?

It's best to site your bin on a level, well drained spot. This allows excess water to drain out and makes it easier for helpful creatures such as worms to get in and get working on breaking down the contents. Placing your bin in a partially sunny spot can help speed up the composting process.

What to put in

Like any recipe, your compost relies on the right ingredients to make it work. Good things you can compost include vegetable peelings, fruit waste, teabags, plant prunings and grass cuttings. These are considered "Greens." Greens are quick to rot and they provide important nitrogen and moisture. Other things you can compost include cardboard egg boxes, scrunched up paper and fallen leaves. These are considered "Browns" and are slower to rot. They provide fibre and carbon and also allow important air pockets to form in the mixture. Crushed eggshells can be included to add useful minerals.  You can compost hair and animal fur and natural fibres such as old woollen or cotton clothes (best to chop them up first)

What not to compost

Certain things should never be placed in your bin. No cooked vegetables, no meat, no dairy products, no diseased plants, and definitely no dog poo or cat litter, or baby's nappies. Putting these in your bin can encourage unwanted pests and can also create odour. Also avoid composting perennial weeds (such as bindweed or couch grass) or weeds with seed heads.

Get the mix right

The key to good compost lies in getting the mix right. You need to keep your Greens and Browns properly balanced. If your compost is too wet, add more Browns. If it's too dry, add some Greens. Making sure there is enough air in the mixture is also important. Adding scrunched up bits of cardboard is a simple way to create air pockets that will help keep your compost healthy. Air can also be added by mixing the contents. Human pee makes a good activator on the compost heap so why not keep a bucket in your shed for when you have to 'go' and tip it on the compost?  After approximately 6-9 months your finished compost will be ready.

Using your compost

Finished compost is a dark brown, almost black soil-like layer that you'll find at the bottom of your bin. It has a spongy texture and is rich in nutrients.  Spreading the finished compost into your beds greatly improves soil quality by helping it retain moisture and suppressing weeds.

For more information check out the Community Composting Network site.

Wormeries

Wormeries are great - kids love them, and you can put some cooked food items in that you shouldn't put on the compost heap.  What's more you get a wonderful liquid ('worm pee') that you can dilute and use as a great liquid fertiliser, and the end product is wom castes - a great and concentrated fertiliser

There are many suppliers of wormeries, different designs and prices - you can even make your own.  Find out more at http://www.wigglywigglers.co.uk.

This page was added by Jack Latimer on 01/11/2009.